The ability to advocate for yourself at work is arguably more important than ever. The office is no longer just a physical space and 9-to-5 jobs are no longer the standard. As working from home and non-traditional hours become the norm, you need to be more upfront about asking for the compensation and flexibility you need.
Further, the current generation of young people is predicted to change jobs more frequently than others have. You will face countless career-defining negotiations. When and how you speak up will determine the outcomes of those conversations.
While self-advocacy is a skill that everyone should master, it is especially important for women who are just entering the workforce. Numerous studies suggest that women are not as effective at self-advocacy as our male colleagues — because we feel uncomfortable asking, because gender stereotypes inhibit us or because when we do ask for things we are not as likely get them.
Becoming your own best champion may feel unnatural and, at times, overwhelming. But there are small things you can do that will make a big impact. I spent the past five years researching female leaders for my book, "What Girls Need." I heard the personal stories of women who hold powerful positions in the corporate world, the military, Hollywood and other fields. I also learned what strategies are most effective when it comes to asking for what we want.
Here are three strategies that these women use to get ahead. You can use them too, throughout your career.
Start small, and practice
As with any life skill, it takes deliberate practice to learn how to confidently and effectively speak up for yourself. The best approach here is to do just that — to practice, both in and outside the workplace. Start with easier requests to get comfortable and build a foundation. Those small wins will add up over time.
For instance, if you want more time to complete a project, don't immediately ask for an extension. First, consider what is holding you up. Is the deadline unrealistic? Are you waiting for someone else to approve or contribute to the work? Is your original goal no longer practical given information that came to light once you began?
Once you identify the problem, try to brainstorm solutions that will be relatively painless for others to support. Instead of asking to adjust the deadline, propose a simpler version of the final presentation or suggest a way to streamline the approval process. The goal is to show that you're taking initiative by presenting your manager with a solution, as opposed to a problem, while also making it easy for all involved to say yes.
Low-stakes situations will give you opportunities to hone your personal style of persuasion and encourage people to support future asks, too. Even a failed attempt builds rapport with the other person and makes them more likely to help you in the future. Every small moment of speaking up for what you need has a lasting impact.
PRO TIP: Before approaching your manager with a solution, answer this question: Why is my idea a great one? Think of at least three reasons why — including how it will benefit you, your team and your boss. Phrases like "I'd like to suggest …" and "What if we tried …" will also help you ease into your request.
Make empathy your advantage
At first glance, this idea may seem counterintuitive. How does being empathetic to others help you assert yourself? Research shows that understanding the needs of your boss or co-worker, and considering what they want when you make a request, is one of the best ways to get what you want. It's also a game changer for women, who studies reveal are most persuasive when they advocate on behalf of others.
Let's say you want more flexibility at work. Rather than requesting a day or two off, first ask yourself what your manager needs most. Then present a proposal that reframes your request with your manager's priorities in mind.
To be clear: Strategically framing your request like this is not about finding a compromise. It's about presenting the most persuasive case to improve the likelihood of you getting exactly what you want.
In this particular case, you could explain why working remotely (or arriving later or leaving earlier some days) will make you more productive. Maybe the argument is that you will have additional time for work by avoiding your morning commute, or that your home office allows you to focus more deeply on your assignments without interruption. Or maybe working remotely more often will be ideal for both you and your boss, because it will allow you to connect with clients at odd hours.
For women especially, this strategy helps us sidestep the backlash that studies show occur when we negotiate and advocate for ourselves. By actively taking the needs of the other person into account, your request feels mutually beneficial — and there's less of a chance you'll experience that backlash.
PRO TIP: Find ways to fit in language like "I have an idea that will help us both." Whatever solutions are reached will now address your concerns as well as those of whomever you need to persuade — and what could be more persuasive than that?
When the time comes that you want to ask for something bigger — like a role in an important project, the chance to attend a conference or new responsibilities that open doors for a future promotion — try to partner with your peers and co-workers. You can make any request more persuasive by combining the above practices with a team-oriented approach.
For women working in traditionally male-dominated environments, from the West Wing to tech and gaming, this method is valuable. Your request — whatever it is — now carries the weight of several voices, adding credibility to current and future demands. When an issue affects not just you but an entire group of people, your organization will pay more attention.
PRO TIP: Ask a trusted colleague to be in the room as you present your ideas. You may find that their support makes you bolder, while also signaling that your views reflect those of a wider group. Language like "I am requesting …" suddenly turns into "We would like …"
Yes, speaking up for what you need is hard. It is a challenge that women are not often encouraged to practice. But don't let this reality or the research define you — work to change it. Start now, and let the strategies above guide you.
Written by: Marisa Porges
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